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We are still in the early days of the electric revolution. Though, someday electric vehicles will have their batteries reach end of life. Most electric vehicles currently have estimated battery service lives of 10 to 20 years. What happens when they reach that end point? While we’re still in the early years of the electric car revolution, understanding options is important now, long before there are millions of batteries reaching end-of-life every year. The good news is that there are already a few potential outcomes including repurposing, recycling, or disposal. 

THE PROBLEM:  

As batteries are charged and discharged in an electric vehicle they slowly degrade over time. They lose a small amount of their performance and capacity. After a certain number of charging cycles the battery will lose enough capacity to maintain the performance and range required by EVs. This will take hundreds if not thousands of cycles however, with many EV manufacturers claiming the batteries may outlive the cars. However, at some point these batteries will need to be replaced. 

 

Solution 1: REPURPOSING 

An electric car battery will likely live more than one life as a battery, starting out in an electric vehicle, then finding a second home as a stationary battery perhaps. Even though they may no longer be suited for EV use they are still functional batteries. Many will find a second home in a garage again, as energy storage for homes. These batteries could be used to store energy produced through solar. Or they could charge during nonpeak hours of the day then provide power during the peak to reduce electric expenses. 

These batteries will also find uses outside of the home for more industrial uses. Multiple former EV batteries can be combined into a large array to provide even large facilities with power. Repurposed EV batteries can be used basically anywhere there is a need for power. 

Solution 2: RECYCLING 

Eventually many of these batteries will degrade to the point where they aren’t suitable for use at all due to safety concerns or capacity. At this point we reach recycling. Currently battery recycling is difficult and often produces toxic emissions. Batteries will either be shredded down and burned or placed into an acid bath to extract the rare materials. What makes recycling even more difficult is how the batteries are assembled. Almost every battery is built from many smaller batteries glued together. This process is great for keeping them together but adds to the labor required to extract them. This makes it more expensive to recycle batteries which leads to more ending up in their final resting place, the landfill. 

Solution 3: DISPOSAL 

As much as we would like to think all batteries will be recycled many won’t. Batteries contain many harmful components that if released pose a risk to the environment and people. Unfortunately, with our current production of batteries this will be a rising issue in the future as batteries reach their end of life.  

There is still time though. With most EVs being relatively young there is time to prepare for this unavoidable issue. Advancements in recycling technology can help, but manufacturers will also need to do their part to design batteries that are easier to disassemble. Cutting back on the amount of time required to recycle these batteries is a key first step in reducing the number that end up in the landfill. Other more advanced technologies such as battery reconditioning will be important as well. Extending the service life of batteries reducing the need to dispose older batteries. 

Wrap-up 

Any way you look at it the electric revolution has arrived. Batteries have never been so important, providing near zero emissions transportation.  Though with large changes there are almost always growing pains. Batteries are not an infinite solution to power, finding innovative solutions for their end of life will be an important part of transferring from fossil fuels. At the end of the day, we are still quite early in this process, and the world of EVs is here to stay.